Tennis

Life going forward for Paul Daugherty, the Cincinnati Enquirer columnist, is going to be very difficult after Naomi Osaka’s agent threw him to the social media wolves by branding him a ‘bully’. Daugherty certainly didn’t deserve the level of scrutiny he’s received from millions of Osaka fans, given that he asked a perfectly legitimate question in a very considered way.

It was the first time that 23-year-old Osaka had been in front of the media after pulling out of Roland-Garros because she no longer felt up to doing interviews after her matches. So Daugherty’s question to Osaka about how to balance the benefits of the media with her dislike of press conferences was to be expected.

Regrettably, for Daugherty, he was first in line to ask questions. Perhaps it was a case of simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time, but the aftermath has been far from civil and has raised some very important questions about the relationship between athletes and the media, moving forward.

Naomi Osaka reduced to tears in first press conference since French Open withdrawal. Full story: https://t.co/GYBcJiIkL3 pic.twitter.com/IKyVrQhYaB

— Guardian sport (@guardian_sport) August 17, 2021

In reality, Osaka’s actual response was a very long and somewhat confusing ramble that Daugherty would go on to describe in his column as being: “Honest, thoughtful… and unlike any answer, I’ve had in 34 years covering sports in Cincinnati. She’s very human and doesn’t mind showing it.”It was, in truth, an incredibly flattering review of what could only be construed as a long-winded and dull answer. However, despite his best efforts to be subtle and sensitive, Daugherty ended up being confronted on social media by the player’s agent. Osaka’s team has a lot to answer for in terms of their stance. After all, they’re publically lambasting a journalist whilst simultaneously, and perhaps ironically, reminding people to be kind.

There really aren’t any winners in this situation, but maybe we are closer to finding an answer regarding players and their obligation to the media. Indeed, since Osaka announced that she wouldn’t be dealing with the media again, fellow tour players have come out and said that it’s unjust for journalists to be rounded on. A prime example is Australia’s Ashleigh Barty, who’s a leading voice in the world of sport and currently ranked the best player in the women’s game. Barty has been presented as being at odds with Osaka’s stance, though her official line was that speaking to the media wasn’t something that’s ever fazed her.

It’ll be interesting to see what happens if the two women face each other at Flushing Meadows. According to the latest tennis odds ahead of the US Open, Osaka is staked at 5.00 and Barty at 7.50 to be declared the women’s singles winner. Matters on-court should be distinctly separate from the chatter off-court, however, it’s clear from examples we’ve seen in other sports recently that the effect of the media and high-stress levels can definitely have an effect on performance. Just think of Simone Biles and her shock withdrawals from the Olympic competitions.

Quiet, please. Two queens playing chess 🤫

No. 1 @ashbarty vs. No. 2 @naomiosaka #RolandGarros pic.twitter.com/8OMBkgjhTT

— Roland-Garros (@rolandgarros) May 26, 2021

Back to the matter at hand and, crucially, it should be said that it wasn’t just Barty that spoke up for the media given that Rafael Nadal also weighed in. The Spaniard was quoted as saying: “I don’t know. I mean, we as sportspeople, I mean, we need to be ready to accept the questions and to try to produce an answer, no?”.
Needless to say, it’s crucial that tennis’ biggest stars speak up on behalf of journalists as, without them, tennis would lack a narrative, and interest in the sport would wane. In reality, this whole situation has focused the spotlight on the responsibility that the media have, which is also positive as nobody is infallible and journalists have the obligation to act professionally. This discussion is a work-in-progress and, undoubtedly, we’ll be seeing further contention as future tennis tournaments and their accompanying press conferences continue.


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